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The Glory & The Veil

  


Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.


The Glory 

 

What is glory?

 

The word in Greek is Δόξα, from which we get our English word, doxology, which means a word of praise. The word, Δόξα, can be translated a number of different ways. It can be translated as: opinion; it always refers to a good opinion in the New Testament. Δόξα can also be translated as: praise, honor, glory, approval, brightness, or majesty. 

 

The idea of brightness associated with glory comes from the Old Testament, beginning with the idea of the Shekinah glory of God. The Lord led the Israelites through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land using a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It was on that journey that Moses went up Mount Sinai to meet with God and receive the Ten Commandments. As Moses came down the mountain his face shone with brightness after meeting with God, apparently because his face reflected God’s brightness.

 

Forms of the word “glory” appear 13 times in this section of 2 Corinthians, 167 times in the New Testament, and about an equal number of times in the Old Testament.

 

The Glory of the Old Deal

 

Last week, in the immediately preceding section of Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, we saw Paul talking about The New Covenant or what I have called The New Deal. We also saw how this idea of a New Covenant or New Deal was first mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah, writing hundreds of years before Paul. 

 

On the night before his death, when Jesus shared the Passover with his disciples, he took a cup of wine and said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:24) Some manuscripts have Jesus actually saying: “new covenant”. Paul definitely viewed Jesus as inaugurating the new covenant.

 

Then in this passage Paul uses the phrase “old covenant” for the first time. Eventually, this phrase got applied as a description of the whole collection of Hebrew Scripture. But by “old covenant” Paul meant the covenant inaugurated with the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai.

Paul tells us at least four important things about this old covenant. He says that it was engraved in letters on stone. Paul is referring to the Ten Commandments which the Israelites believed were literally inscribed by the finger of God on stone. Then these tablets of stone were placed in the Ark of the Covenant, which was placed in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple during the reign of King Solomon.

 

Paul also tells us that this old covenant brought condemnation and he refers to the old covenant as a ministry of death.

 

Now why does Paul say that the old covenant brought condemnation and death? Paul’s fellow rabbis taught just the opposite. They believed that the Law of Moses brought life. Why does Paul say that the law brings condemnation and death?

 

Well, as Paul explains in his letter to the Church at Rome, the problem with the law is that we don’t keep it. And, as he says in Romans 3:23, “The wages of sin is death.”

 

Nonetheless, the ministry of death, the ministry of condemnation, came with glory. Moses’ face shone when he came down the mountain bearing the Ten Commandments. But, as we will talk about in a moment, the glory of the old covenant was a fading glory. It was transitory. Faded Glory is not just the name of a clothing brand.

 

If all that Paul talked about was the fading glory of the old covenant all his writings would be depressing. But he does not leave us on that depressing note.

 

The Glory of the New Deal

 

Paul also talks about the glory of the new deal, the new covenant in Jesus Christ.

 

We saw last week part of the glory of this new deal which is ours in Jesus. We are each, individually, letters from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Paul echoes Jeremiah who tells us that in the new covenant God writes the law on our hearts instead of on stone tablets. This new deal is not a matter of following the letter of the law, but following the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

 

C. S. Lewis says it is like the difference between following a rule book or trying to paint someone’s picture. We are called upon to paint the portrait of Christ in our own lives.

 

In contrast to the glory of the old deal, the one that was a ministry of death and condemnation, the new deal is a Ministry of the Spirit and a Ministry that brings Righteousness.

 

Under the New Covenant there is actually a glorious exchange that takes place. Imagine waking up one morning to find that the richest person in the world decided to pay all your debts AND deposit a million dollars in your bank account every month. Can you imagine that?

 

Well, the new deal that God offers us is even better. He takes all of our sin, nails it to the cross, where Jesus pays our debt, which is death. In exchange, God takes Jesus’ spiritual assets, his perfect life, and he applies all the righteousness of Christ to our spiritual bank account. We are spiritual millionaires every day.

 

Not only that, but the greater glory of the new deal is seen in the fact that it is a Glory that Lasts. The glory of the new deal is not a fading glory. In fact, the glory of the new deal is so great, it replaces the old deal of the law completely. 

 

It’s sort of like this… when do you light a lamp? When it gets dark, right? But when the sun rises in all its brilliance, lamps are no longer needed.

Just so, the Son, Jesus Christ, has risen in all his brilliance, and so the lamp of the law is no longer needed. We don’t follow a rule book. We follow a living person. That is a glory that lasts.

 

Think of a time when you encountered a great brightness. How did you handle it? As you know, I was born in New York, but grew up in Southern California. I spent 19 years living in Southern California. Yet, every time I return there, I am struck by how bright it is. They have the same sun there that we have here, but it is so much brighter because it seems like there is sunshine almost every day, there are fewer trees to absorb the light, and the sunlight reflects off the ocean. On some trips to California, I have forgotten to take sunglasses with me and have had to buy sunglasses because my eyes just couldn’t handle the brightness.

 

Paul tells us that the Israelites could not handle the brightness of God’s glory, so Moses came up with a solution, but it wasn’t to have the Israelites wear sunglasses. No, Moses’ solution was to wear a veil.

 

The Veil

 

That leads to the second major point Paul makes in this passage. First, he talks about the Glory and then he talks about the Veil.

 

The word for veil, κάλυμμα, appears only 4 times in the New Testament, all in these verses. It refers to a covering of head and face.

 

Paul talks about three veils in this passage: the veil of Moses, the veil of the Israelites, and the veil that is taken away. Let’s look at each in turn…

 

The Veil of Moses

First, there is the veil of Moses. All of Paul’s comments here are based upon Exodus 34, the story of Moses’ face shining when he came down the mountain after meeting with God. Paul adds an interesting interpretation of this Old Testament passage. He says that the reason Moses put a veil on his face was so that the Israelites would not see the glory fade from his face. Paul’s whole point is that the glory of the old covenant was a fading glory.

The Veil of the Israelites

 

Next, Paul talks about the veil of the Israelites. He moves from talking about the physical veil that Moses wore over his face, to using the image of the veil metaphorically. Paul says that the Israelites, the Jews, have a veil over their eyes whenever Moses, the words of Hebrew Scripture, are read in the synagogue service. They don’t see that the law of Moses, and in fact all the Old Testament Scriptures, point forward to Christ and show us our need of him.

 

The thing is, the Israelites of old are not the only ones who wore a veil, metaphorically speaking. J. I. Packer once said that, “We all have blinders.” Just like horses wear blinders so as not to be spooked by something in their peripheral vision, all of us wear blinders. I think Packer was making the same point Paul was making. Only Packer applied this to Christians. He said that we all as Christians have blinders. Whatever Christian tradition we are part of, that tradition helps us to see some things well, but it blinds us to other truths God may want us to see.

 

I wonder, what are the blinders, or the veil, that you wear? What are the blinders or veil that I wear? William Barclay, in his commentary on this passage, talks about the veils of prejudice, wishful thinking, fragmentary thinking, and the veil that separates us from God.

 

Well, we all have our veils. We all wear blinders. None of us have perfect spiritual vision. So how do we improve our vision? How do we remove the veil or the blinders?

  

The Veil Taken Away

 

Paul says, “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” When we turn to Christ Jesus, he removes our veil; he takes away our blinders; in fact, he cures our spiritual blindness. Not only that, but if we turn to Christ and concentrate our gaze on him, in the end, we will reflect him to others.

 

I think I have mentioned this before… how scientists have studied people who live together for a long time and they have proven scientifically that people who live together for a long time begin to look like each other. It’s because they spend so much time looking at each other that they begin to mimic one another’s facial expressions, and the muscles in their faces actually change so that they start resembling each other. In the same way, anyone who spends a long time living with Jesus will begin to look like him.

 

Paul closes out this passage with a really fascinating thought. When the Old Testament uses the word “Lord” it is usually referring to God, Yahweh, in a general sense. When Paul uses the word “Lord” he is usually talking about Jesus Christ. But in this passage, he says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

 

In other words, the Holy Spirit is Lord just as much as the Father and the Son are Lord. We are beginning to see here, I believe, an early formation of the doctrine of the Trinity. God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but all are one God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally divine.

 

Now Paul says, just as Jesus removes our veil, our spiritual blindness, so also, wherever the Holy Spirit of God is, the veil is taken away and we find freedom and boldness. Isn’t freedom one of our greatest desires in life? And yet, no matter how much we seek it or try to create it for ourselves, we fall short of true freedom. We all tend to live with some level of bondage, until we receive freedom in the Holy Spirit.

 

The Collect for Peace in The Book of Common Prayer goes like this:

 

GOD, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

In the service of God, we find perfect freedom. Wherever the Holy Spirit is, we find perfect freedom and boldness.

 

Paul concludes this beautiful meditation by saying that not only do we have a greater glory in the new deal, not only is our spiritual blindness cured, but we are moving from glory to glory. The Christian life is not static. We are moving into every increasing degrees of glory.

 

Have you ever noticed a glow about Christians? I mean this quite literally. I have met a number of Christians whose faces shine. Some people have such a glow about them that I have often assumed they are Christians even before they tell me they are. At my mother’s memorial service, a Christian acquaintance of hers talked about what a bright presence she was, and how he almost couldn’t handle being in her presence at first, not because she was purposely off-putting in her demeanor in any way, but simply because the presence of Christ in her life was so bright, he felt dingy by comparison. My niece, Emily, shared a story shortly after my mother passed. She had a dream of my mother, her grandmother, and in the dream my mother was glowing. My mother was so vibrant and full of life, that Emily was bowled over by it—the dream was so real. Perhaps it was a vision.

 

Paul tells us that when we turn to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we begin to have that same glow because we begin to reflect the glory, the brightness of Christ and we are being transformed into his image, his character, with ever-increasing glory. It is a process. Others may progress further than us in those degrees of glory in this life. But in none of us will the process be complete until that day we stand before Jesus.

 

In the days when I used to watch Robert Schuller on television, I always enjoyed his benediction which was based on the Aaronic blessing from the Old Testament. Schuller’s benediction went like this: 

 

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. And may God give you His peace in your going out and in your coming in, in your lying down and in your rising up, in your labor and in your leisure, in your laughter and in your tears… Until you come to stand before Jesus in that day in which there is no sunset and no dawning. Amen.

 

The New Testament teaches us that one day we, as followers of Christ, will get to do something that Moses never got to do. We will get to see God in Christ. I John 3:2 says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

 

When we stand before Jesus in that day, we will see him in all of his glory, and we will begin to reflect his glory perfectly for all eternity.

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